Now that the pandemic has struck, many of us feel like we are starting over as we navigate this fluid and nebulous teaching situation. What’s a teacher to do?
If you’re anything like me, you stand on the shoulders of other teachers.
Every Sunday since this all began, the Ohio Writing Project has hosted a conference call for teachers to vent, brainstorm, and, of course, write (I’ve been recording these discussions for the Write Answers podcast). In a recent chat, a colleague named David Tarr brought up the idea of video lesson mentor texts. The idea was that, since much of our teaching during this time will likely take the form of video tutorials, some examples of good video lessons might prove useful. Just like our student writers, if we are going to create effective content, we’re going to need some models.
Dave and I took a two-pronged approach:
- I looked up some good video tutorials on YouTube, ranging from Khan Academy lessons to how to beat a certain video game tutorials.
In one video, Gordon Ramsay teaches how to chop an onion. This video was just over a minute and a half long, and the big takeaway for me was that Ramsay has obviously practiced what he’s teaching–a lot. Because he is so automatic with this skill, he is able to break down each step into clear and concise chunks. When we make videos off the cuff, the tendency is to ramble without clear pause and end points. So, while I knew I wouldn’t maybe be as automatic as Gordon Ramsay, I would need to plan for precision in my explanations, pause points, and end point (I did not all the way succeed, but I was close!).
2. Teacher-created mentor texts and collaboration!
I texted Dave to see if he’d be willing to collaborate on sharing and providing feedback on video lessons. He was down.
This part of the process would go on to be the most important. When our students use mentor texts to create writing, they also benefit from our guidance and feedback along the way. Teachers need this, too.
So, Dave and I both created mini-lesson videos, sent them to each other, and provided feedback. In the rest of this piece, you’ll get to see the lessons we created, read the thought process that went into each, see the video feedback we gave each other, and read about how we approached providing feedback to a colleague.
David’s breakdown of this lesson:
My first week of distance learning focused on read aloud. I was not sure if anyone was going to listen, as we were still on “Spring Break”. Amazingly, on first day, students submitted thoughtful comment after thoughtful comment. As the week went on, however, the comments started to change. They became short, they became off topic, they became social. I got it. I was struggling with my new social distancing and the comment board became a place for my students to connect. I knew I needed to do two things: first and most important, I needed find a way to allow my students to connect with each other and second find a solution to get our read aloud conversation back on track.
A long time ago a very smart person told me that if I wanted my students to do something it was simple I had to teach it. I searched through Jennifer Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies Book and found my answer. I created a “poster,” wrestled with ScreenCastify, and you can see the results above.
Noah’s feedback on Dave’s Lesson
Noah’s feedback approach:
I approached feedback for my colleague by leaning on what I know to do with students. I wanted to look for what Dave naturally does well (as a teacher)–and I wanted to name it so that he can be sure to keep doing these things on purpose moving forward, if he wasn’t already.
I also wanted to look for places where I might ask a question that would provoke him to either consider something new or firm up his stance on why he made certain choices. In learning situations, I think it’s generally better to ask questions than it is to give advice. Plus, I know Dave to be a strong teacher, so if I asked him questions, I could count on him having strong answers.
Noah’s breakdown of this lesson:
I wanted my video lessons to look and sound as much like my classroom mini-lessons as possible. In my mini-lessons, I start with a hook, and then I move into a clearly stated teaching point. From there, I usually demonstrate something from my own reading/writing–often in conjunction with a mentor text, and then I pause for students to turn and talk or try something in their notebooks. All in all, it’s almost identical to the approaches they teach at TCRWP.
Now, turn and talk isn’t an option with these kinds of lessons, so I opted to embed places where students would pause to think or try something out in their notebooks.
I also wanted to have a place where students could share their work from the day’s lesson. So, I invited students to share their work via Flipgrid, since we’d been working with this app a lot before our extended break from school.
Dave’s Feedback on Noah’s Lesson
Dave’s Feedback Approach:
I watched Noah’s feedback video, and I noticed right away that he used a trick from his classroom to give me my feedback. This idea of reaching back to the classroom has been an important aspect of my planning from the beginning. I think by rooting this new learning in what the students already “knew” is crucial. It tells the students we are in a different place digitally, but everything is really pretty much the same.
For Noah’s feedback, I actually decided to reach back and grab a trick from my room we use when looking at a group of mentor texts. The basic idea is that students have a T-Chart where they search texts for things they all have but at the same time try to notice things they love that might only be in one text.
My feedback was intended to work two ways. The ideas that we found in both our lessons could be the core principles we could use as we move forward. The individual aspects that Noah brings to a lesson serve as his affirmations and my aspirations.
Noah’s Final Thoughts
Seeing Dave’s video first reminded me that I wanted my video to be a reflection of the kinds of lessons I teach in person. I also got some ideas on pacing and tone from seeing his Screencast.
Until I heard his feedback, I honestly wasn’t sure if I had done a good job on this lesson, but when Dave pointed out the specific things I had done well, I realized it was better than I had thought. I now feel a lot more confident in what I created for students. His feedback also crystallized the things I want to make sure I keep doing in future video-lessons.
Dave’s Final Thoughts
Seeing Noah’s video I realized how important this process could be for us now. Many of us teachers are used to instant feedback when we deliver a lesson. There is no better barometer for how your lesson is going than a room full of 27 fourth graders. Think about how often you have switched/tweaked your lessons based on the feeling in the room. As we are stuck in our basements, offices, or bedrooms delivering our lessons to a computer screen, we need to reach out to each other now more than ever to get the feedback that makes a good lesson tick.
We would love to collaborate with you on video content for students! If you would like to practice reciprocal feedback–or if you have other great ideas on how to create effective digital lessons for students, comment below! Or you can find Dave and I on Twitter @HireaGM (Dave) and @MrWteach (Noah).